HOLY INNOCENTS HISTORY
Robert Walter Weir, a renowned artist and Professor of Art and Drawing at West Point from 1834 to 1876, along with a few other Christians,
including General Chief of the Army (General Winfield Scott) were concerned that the village of Fallsville (Buttermilk Falls and now Highland
Falls) had no proper place of worship. The little village was composed of mostly laborers who depended on the wants of the academy. This
Christian group wanted to furnish the villagers and especially their children with means of a proper Christian education. The efforts of this small
group of men brought forth the Church of the Holy Innocents.
Professor Weir designed the church and although he was not a wealthy man, contributed some of the $6,000 he received after painting the
“Embarkation of the Pilgrims” in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Though the building was not complete, our historical
records begin in 1841, but the building of the church was not started until 1842. It took four years to complete and was consecrated on July 1,
l847. Alfred Thayer Mahan was the first to be baptized in 1841, the first communion class consisted of Robert W. Weir and Dennis Mahan,
father of the first baptized child and Professor Weir’s wife and infant daughter were buried from the church in 1845.
The peculiar positioning of the church in relation to Main Street is that when plotting the building, Professor Weir placed it on an arc of a great
circle passing longitudinally through the middle of the building and the city of Jerusalem. As you face the altar, you are looking in the
straightest possible line directly towards Jerusalem. The church was built of native stone quarried on the spot, as well as the baptismal font.
A single bronze bell forged in Rome, N. Y., was placed in the bell tower before the roof was put on and that bell called parishioners to Sunday
service until 1981 when a Memorial Carillon was installed in the bell tower.
The original building was in the form of a cross, with the main entrance to the right of the altar and over the door on the outside is the dedication of the Church of the Holy Innocents, “To The Honour & Glory of God. Amen.”
Land on which the church stands was deeded by Mr. and Mrs. William B. Cozzens. The title deed bears the date of June 30, 1847. It was
recorded in the County of Orange on July 27, 1848. The property consisted of a square parcel of land measuring three and three fourths chain or fifteen rods on each side and contained about one and four tenths acres.
Holy Innocents was a blessing to the villagers and the families of the faculty at the Academy, but there was a problem. On September 21, 1847, Professor Weir wrote to President James H. Polk, because Polk had a nephew at West Point during his presidency, explaining how and why they had built this little church in Fallsville. His main reason for the letter was Military Regulation Paragraph 127, which forced the head of a family to attend chapel service at West Point, thus separating him from his family. Weir’s object in addressing this was to ask permission for the gentlemen to worship in their own church.
In 1848, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pa. gave a welcomed gift of some chandeliers and wall lamps as they were converting their lighting from oil to gas. It is unknown whether or not the existing ones are those mentioned, but in 1897 the existing lights and lamps were converted to electricity.
It is not known if Professor Weir heard from the President, but he was reprimanded for writing the letter. Two years later, in 1849, a Presbyterian Chaplain arrived at West Point and was assigned to the Chapel. On December 5th, Robert Weir wrote to the Hon. J. C. Verplanck regarding the constitutionality of compelling all who were connected with the Military Academy to attend the Chapel, which was then a Presbyterian service. As stated before, the regulation of the Academy said, ”Every member of the Academic Staff and Cadets shall attend divine service in the Chapel.” Weir called it “a violation of our sacred right. Roman Catholics were permitted to attend their own service while the mostly Episcopalians find it an outrage in being deprived of the liberty of attending service of choice.” There was no regulation prohibiting their families to attend Holy Innocents, which they did regularly.
Finally, on October 30, 1850, the Adjutant General of the Military Academy received a letter from C. N. Conrad, Secretary of War, in Washington, DC: “The following regulation is substituted for Par 127 of the Regulation of the Military Academy. It is earnestly recommended all officers and cadets attend the Divine Service on Sunday at the Chapel unless excused by the Superintendent from such attendance upon their declaration in writing that they cannot conscientiously attend. Cadets must have written approval of parents or guardian. The Superintendent must be assured a proper and decent observation of the Sabbath.” So for many years, Episcopalians from the academy attended Holy Innocents, but eventually the regulations allowed Chaplains of many denominations to hold worship services on Sunday at West Point. As time went on and new families moved in, the Episcopal professors, families, officers and cadets attended Episcopal services at the academy, leaving Holy Innocents with a congregation consisting mainly of villagers. The Episcopal community, known as St. Michaels, met in a room in the basement of the Cadet Chapel. In 1997, the Episcopal Chaplain left West Point and would not be replaced by another military Episcopal Chaplain. At that time a new regulation was instituted that there would only be authorized Catholic, Protestant and Jewish Chaplains. The St. Michael’s community voted to join the Church of the Holy Innocents and once again we are blessed with officers, professors, families, Cadets and members of the USMA Band at the Academy.
The land south of the original parcel was deeded to the church by Mrs. Thomas Webb in September 1868. It was her “hope that her grave and those grounds be kept in good order.” The church grounds then grew to one and three quarter acres.
In 1878, the vestry of the church voted “once the service begins, no carriage or omnibus shall drive to the church door but shall deposit passengers at the church gate and that carriage or other conveyance must wait at the gate until such time as the service is ended and the parishioners dismissed.”
By 1887, the congregation had grown and the addition of what is now referred to as the “Amen Corner” was added along with a sacristy and choir room. At that same time, the chancel was changed. The marble
pavement, mahogany reredos, brass communion rail and credence table were added and are still in use. This was all done by the generosity of John Pierpont Morgan, who had a home in Highland Falls. For many years, J. P. Morgan was responsible for the financial stability of the Church of the Holy Innocents as well as serving on the vestry.
The twelve room rectory, a significant example of Tudor revival architecture, was built in 1890. It was a gift of J. P. Morgan and General Charles F. Roe “so the clergymen should have a proper home.”
The beautiful pipe organ, a Farrington & Voty, given in memory of Stephen Bogert Roe was installed in 1896 and had to be replaced in 1970 with a Conn Electric organ. The pipes and cabinet of the old organ remain in place. A Yamaha piano was purchased in 2003 for accompanying recital performers of our Concert Series.
As a gift from loyal parishioners, the present parish hall was added on in 1916. This provided the Church with a large auditorium, a stage and a basement for the furnace. For many years this building provided entertainment and usage for the entire community such as showing movies, basketball games, social gatherings and dinners.
July 1, 1916, a canon was enacted allowing women to vote at the parish elections provided the vestry of that parish passed a resolution giving them permission. Women deserving to vote then possessed the same qualifications necessary for a man. Thus the Church of the Holy Innocents, thereby, gave permission for women of the parish to vote in the annual meeting.
The same year that the Tiffany window was installed, in 1922 (see Stained-Glass Windows History) extensive alterations were made to the interior walls. They were redone in a cement preparation to imitate
Caen stone. Wainscoting was placed on the side-walls and the choir stall was built. The brass cross, which stands above the altar was a gift from the congregation in memory of the Rev. William R. Thomas (one-time rector of this church) and Mrs. Thomas.
A narthex (porch) was added on the Church Street side of the building in 1931, making that door the main entrance to the church. This addition is in memory of John Bigelow.
During the history of the Church of the Holy Innocents, many plaques have been donated. They are placed in various parts of the church in memory of men and women who were part of the life of the church: Frederick Pell, John C. Bergh, William Cruger Pell, Henry Enock Bock, William Ross Wakefield, Stephen Romer Roe, William Tracy and Lucy Tracy, his wife, John Pierpont Morgan and Frances Louisa Tracy, his wife, Edward Satterlee and Jane Anna Yates, his wife, Charles Edward Tracy and Jennie Bigelow Tracy, Alfred Pell(the younger), Mary Tracy Pell and Mary Huntington Pell, Alfred Pell (the older), Elizabeth Cruger Pell, Eliza Wood Pell and Edith Pell Archer-Shee, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Margaret Corbin (Molly Pitcher) and Charles Francis Roe. Many of those remembered here are part of the history of Highland Falls as noted by the names of street and places: Cozzens Avenue, Roe Park, Pellwood Lake, Satterlee Grove and Webb Lane.
The ladies’society of the King’s Daughters was founded in 1888 by Mrs. William Reed Thomas. These women were staunch and faithful workers of the church, furnishing Christmas gifts to the children and paying expenses for the annual Church School picnic. The society gave invaluable aid to the rector in cases of distress or illness by visits and gifts of food and flowers. Through their loyalty and devotion, Holy Innocents was blessed with many valuable and useful gifts.
A Men’s Association of Holy Innocents Parish, was organized in 1920 by the Rev. Thomas to further the interest and welfare of the church. Their work was steady and consistent and nobly supported. The men contributed materially to many repairs and improvements and were responsible for clearing the parish house of a $2,050 mortgage. They sought to furnish amusement and relaxation for the parish members and the community.
A Girl’s Friendly Society was also organized in 1920 for girls ranging in age from twelve to eighteen. While this group existed, they helped with charity, benevolence and missionary sewing. This kept the girls active and involved in the work of the church.
St. Mary’s Guild, probably started in the early 1940’s, was a very active group of dedicated women. Their efforts with fundraising enabled the church to continue financially through many years of hard times. These ladies were the backbone of the church. As an Altar Guild, they were responsible for polishing brass, laundering the linens and putting fresh flowers on the altar weekly. Through the years, they organized monthly covered dish suppers, bake sales, rummage sales, bazaars, breakfasts and the ever popular annual Barn and Boodle. The proceeds from these and many other ventures always went to the work and support of the church. St. Mary’s Guild ended in 2001 due to many women working outside of the home, thus encouraging all parishioners to be active in the needs of the church.
January 2005, St. Mark’s Chapel in Fort Montgomery joined the Church of the Holy Innocents parish. We are now one parish with two congregations served by the Rev. Judy Ferguson. The Sunday Service at St. Mark’s is 8 AM and at Holy Innocents 10 AM.
Since 1922, many parishioners have been responsible for the maintenance and administration of the Church of the Holy Innocents. We are a vital community doing outreach through our Cadet Campus Ministry (Canterbury Club), Food Pantry and Thrift Shop. Our mission is to share God’s love through worship, nurture and witness to this diverse and dynamic community and to provide sanctuary in a changing world.
[Research done by Marilynn K. Smith (in the 1980’s) and Georgia Wallace 2005]
HISTORY of ST. MARK’S CHAPEL
The first service for St. Mark’s Mission was held on Sunday, April 28, 1914 in the home of Mrs. Adeline Drew. The Rev. Klineschmidt of Tompkins Cove had been requested by the Bishop to come to this community, which was not being served by the Episcopal Church, to conduct the service and survey the need. Services continued to be held in homes of parishioners with the first confirmation for twenty confirmands by the Rt. Rev. Charles Burch being held in the “old school” (probably the site of the present fire house). Services continued to be held in the “old school” by the Rev. John McV. Haight.
A 1918 Easter offering of $165 started the building fund. Soon land for the chapel was given to the diocese by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gee and the plans for the structure were donated by architect J. Acker Hayes in memory of his mother. Charles Anderson of Fort Montgomery was awarded the contract for erection of the building and stained-glass windows from the renovation of the West Point Chapel were donated.
Funds for the new chapel were raised by dances. A platform was constructed by men of the community in front of Mrs. Drew’s house (site of the present Fort Montgomery Elementary School). Many folks from New York City summered in the town for its fresh air and joined in many of the community activities. Young men from the West Point Band volunteered to play for the dances until one night when duty called they were unable to play. A piano was carried over from Mrs. Thirza Sheldon’s house and thus began her career of more than fifty years of providing piano and organ music for the chapel.
May 31, 1928 saw the dedication of the chapel with the Rev. Henry Drew and the Rt. Rev. Herbert Shipman, Suffragan Bishop presiding.
The congregation and the women’s guild were always very active in the community raising funds to support the church and it’s outreach activities. Bazaars, cake sales, rummage sales, card parties and a thrift ship brought in revenues for “Boys in Service” and “Gifts to the Yanks who Gave” packages, layettes were made and sent to the New York Protestant Episcopal Mission Society, warm clothing was knitted and sent to the Seaman’s Institute and clothing and supplies were sent to the Rosebud Indian Reservation and Willowbrook Hospital. Funds were donated to the American Red Cross, Cancer Society, Ambulance Corps and the War Memorial Committee. A bed was funded at St. Barabas Hospital in NYC and gifts and clothing were given to the children. Funds were also given to St. Mark’s Regent Park, London, which was celebrating its 100th Anniversary as well as reconstructing from the bomb damage of World War II. In recent years support was given to missionaries in Malaita and Madagascar. The undercroft was used for the Girls Scouts, Red Cross and hospital sewing groups as well as recently by AA, Alanon and Coda.
The mission was led by the ministries of several priests from both St. John the Divine, Tompkins Cove and the Church of the Holy Innocents, Highlands Falls. In 1977 St. Mark’s entered a relationship with Holy Innocents for the purpose of calling a pastor and then in 1979 incorporated and terminated its status as a mission.
In April 1983 St. Mark’s was notified that it had been placed on the National Historic Register. And in 1997 with the financial assistance of the Diocesan Property Support Committee the undercroft was renovated with a new well, bathroom and kitchen facilities. The newly renovated undercroft was dedicated May 1998 with the following clergy in attendance: the Rt. Rev Mark S. Sisk, the Rev. Clare Woodley and the Rev. David Stanway, the present priest at the time and also the Area Missioner for the Hudson Valley Ministry and priest at St. Thomas, New Windsor.
When Rev. Stanway left for another position back in his native Canada a relationship was formed with the Church of the Holy Innocents. Under the guidance of the Rev. Judith Ferguson St. Mark’s joined with the parish of the Church of the Holy Innocents in 2003. The incorporation papers of St. Mark’s were dissolved and a rider put on to the incorporation papers of Holy Innocents, January 4, 2005, making St. Mark’s Church, St Mark’s Chapel of the Church of the Holy Innocents.